Hewlett-Packard regained the lead in worldwide PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2003, but Dell held onto its lead for the full year, as the PC industry recorded one of its better years in recent memory, according to preliminary figures released by IDC and Gartner.

HP shipped 7.5 million PCs worldwide in the quarter, up 21 percent from its fourth-quarter 2002 shipments of 6.2 million. Dell followed with worldwide shipments of 7.2 million units, up 19.7 percent from its fourth-quarter 2002 tally of 6.1 million units, according to IDC.

Gartner came up with similar numbers, with HP shipping 7.5 million units worldwide, an increase of 21.8 percent from the fourth quarter of 2002, and Dell shipping 7.1 million units, up 19.7 from its year-earlier performance.

Total fourth-quarter PC shipments reached 48.4 million units, according to Gartner, up 12 percent from the previous year. IDC pegged the total at 44.6 million units, an increase of 15.2 percent.

The fourth quarter is always a strong one for consumer purchases, and HP has a stronger presence among consumers with its focus on retail markets, said Roger Kay, vice president of client computing for IDC.

"This shows it's still a two-horse race. The switching off is reflective of their (HP and Dell's) differing segment focus - in more commercial quarters, Dell gets back," he said.

Commercial buying probably increased in the quarter, but not as fast as consumers picked up holiday gifts for themselves or their families, Kay said. The fourth quarter likely marked the start of a four to five quarter upswing in PC buying among businesses, he said.

For the full year, Dell shipped 25.8 million units, up 25 percent from its 2002 total of 20.7 million. HP came in second with 25.0 million units, up 14.5 percent from 2002 shipments of 21.8 million units worldwide, according to IDC.

Gartner reported slightly lower numbers for both companies, finding that Dell had shipped 25.3 million units, up 25.8 percent from 2002. HP followed with 24.2 million shipments for the year, up 12.3 percent from 2002.

Total worldwide shipments for 2003 were 152.6 million according to IDC and 168.9 million, according to Gartner. The total shipment numbers are different, because Gartner counts a larger percentage of self-assembled and unbranded "white box" PC systems, according to Charles Smulders, the vice president of client platforms at Gartner.

IDC and Gartner both define their PC shipments as desktops, notebooks, ultra portable devices, and servers based on chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

The remaining spots in the top five vendors worldwide were filled by IBM, Fujitsu-Siemens, and Toshiba. All posted double-digit percent increases in year-over-year growth, except IBM, which grew at 12.2 percent according to IDC, and 8.8 percent, according to Gartner.